Advances in conformal radiation therapy and advancements in pre-clinical radiotherapy research have recently stimulated the development of precise micro-irradiators for small animals such as mice and rats. These devices are often kilovolt x-ray radiation sources combined with high-resolution CT imaging equipment for image guidance, as the latter allows precise and accurate beam positioning. This is similar to modern human radiotherapy practice. These devices are considered a major step forward compared to the current standard of animal experimentation in cancer radiobiology research. The availability of this novel equipment enables a wide variety of pre-clinical experiments on the synergy of radiation with other therapies, complex radiation schemes, sub-target boost studies, hypofractionated radiotherapy, contrast-enhanced radiotherapy and studies of relative biological effectiveness, to name just a few examples. In this review we discuss the required irradiation and imaging capabilities of small animal radiation research platforms. We describe the need for improved small animal radiotherapy research and highlight pioneering efforts, some of which led recently to commercially available prototypes. From this, it will be clear that much further development is still needed, on both the irradiation side and imaging side. We discuss at length the need for improved treatment planning tools for small animal platforms, and the current lack of a standard therein. Finally, we mention some recent experimental work using the early animal radiation research platforms, and the potential they offer for advancing radiobiology research.